TBY SPECIAL REPORT: Iran

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known more commonly as the Iran nuclear deal, was hailed as a success of diplomacy and a victory for dialog.

But Trump's decision to reverse the US' stance on Iran, followed quickly by punitive measures on metals trading, coal, industrial software, and the auto sector, are being followed by more serious sanctions on oil sales and the central bank.

The country's European trading partners are determined to keep JCPOA alive without the US, but the threat of US action against European companies doing business with Iran, which has resulted in fines of USD1.5 billion for Commerzbank and USD9 billion for BNP Paribas before JCPOA, has boardrooms spooked.

Pressure is also mounting on the EU to cut Iran off from the SWIFT network, which caused untold strife in the pre-JCPOA era.

It is at times like these that information on the business environment on the ground is so in demand, yet so scarce. On the ground, Iran is working on a SWIFT replacement known as SEPAM, which, following agreement with foreign nations, could afford Iran better command of its own financial security.

Elsewhere, the threat of once again being cut off from global oil markets has lit a fire under the non-oil sector, with efforts being made to boost exports from a wider array of categories, from electrical equipment, paper, machinery, and vehicles to Persian rugs and traditional local agricultural products, such as saffron and pistachios. Indeed, exports of saffron are expected to increase by 25% by year-end, while USD600 million worth of pistachios were exported to over 70 countries over the last year.

Despite uncertainty in the oil and gas sector, the country still relies on revenues from the black stuff. It is estimated that oil and gas account for well over 50% of the government's annual budget and 80% of the country's revenue from exports. According to Iran's Ministry of Petroleum, in 2017 the country exported nearly 1 billion barrels of crude oil and gas condensates, which adds up to USD50 billion.

Although a remarkable sum, this figure is slightly disappointing when compared to the USD95 billion that the country received in 2011. While the lower price of oil is primarily responsible, a lack of technological development has also had a negative impact. Following the signing of JCPOA, it was hoped international investment could help to close the technology gap, but for now Iran looks as though it will have to make do.

Examining a range of sectors, from finance, oil and gas, and IT to industry, education, tourism, and media, this publication seeks to provide on-the-ground information about the Iranian business envrionment and identify the opportunities still available to foreign investors.